Charlestown State Prison/Bunker Hill Community College

250 New Rutherford Avenue, Charlestown

In late January 1955, four prisoners, following a botched escape attempt, held hostage five guards and numerous fellow inmates in the “Cherry Hill” section of the Charlestown State Prison. With the prison surrounded by police and National Guard troops, the armed prisoners surrendered after three-and-a-half days. However, they succeeded in having their grievances about the institution’s inhumane conditions and the state-wide penal system heard by a “citizens committee” charged with negotiating with them. The committee’s seven members agreed to work to improve prison conditions across the state, thus helping to bring to a peaceful end to what was then the second-longest prison insurrection in U.S. history.

Charlestown State Prison, 1900. Public domain.

In its report on the 85-hour stand-off, Time described Charlestown State Prison as “a cramped compound of blackened granite and dilapidated brick buildings” The newsweekly went on to characterize it as “the oldest, most disreputable prison in the U.S.”—it opened in 1805—and as a place “damned for 80 years as a verminous pesthole, unfit for human habitation.” Condemned by the state in 1876, it had replaced the state’s prison at Fort Independence on South Boston’s Castle Island, standing on a five-acre site in what then known as the Lynde Point section of Charlestown. In 1946-1948, Malcolm Little (later known as Malcolm X) was incarcerated there.

Over its years, the prison was the site of 61 executions, employing, beginning in 1901, the electric chair. Sacco and Vanzetti, who spent their last days in the same Sugar Hill cell block that saw the 1955 insurrection, were its most famous victims, executed on August 23, 1927. On May 9, 1947, the last state executions in Massachusetts took place in Charlestown State Prison: those of Phillip Bellino and Edward Gertso.

Police guarding the entrance to Charlestown State Prison. 22 August 1927, in anticipation of protests of the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti. Source: Boston Public Library/Digital Commonwealth.

In 1955, Massachusetts closed Charlestown State Prison, moving the incarcerated men to facilities in Norfolk and Walpole, and tore it down. Since 1973, the site has been the home of Bunker Hill Community College. There is no visible marker on the campus indicating what once stood in its place.

Getting there:

Take the Orange Line to the Community College station and follow the signs for Bunker Hill Community College.

To learn more:

“Citizens Committee Settles Charlestown Prison Riot,” Daily Boston Globe, January 22, 1955: 5.

“Oldest Prison in U. S., Condemned in 1876,” Daily Boston Globe, January 19, 1955: 11.

“The Siege of Cherry Hill,” Time, Vol. 65, Issue 5, January 31, 1955.

O’Neil, Helen. “Where Sacco, Vanzetti and Malcolm X Stayed in Charlestown.” Charlestown Patch. March 6, 2012.

“Past Events.” Charlestown Historical Society website.

Lucy Stone House

45 Boutwell Street, Dorchester

Lucy Stone, circa 1840-1860, public domain

The first woman from Massachusetts to receive a college degree, Lucy Stone (1818-1893) was a leading abolitionist and a pioneer in the struggle for gender equality. She played a key role in the first National Women’s Rights Convention (which took place in 1850, in Worcester, Massachusetts), and helped to set up the anti-slavery Woman’s National Loyal League. Along with her husband, Henry Browne Blackwell, she also founded the Women’s Journal, a national weekly newspaper based in Boston, in 1870.

It was that same year when the couple, along with their daughter, Alice Stone Blackwell (who would become a prominent feminist, suffragette, and humanitarian), moved to the 17-room house on Boutwell Street. Although the house was demolished in 1971, two pillars at the end of the driveway remain from Lucy Stone’s home, one of them adorned with a plaque honoring her.

Lucy Stone’s ashes are interred in the Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain. There is a statue of her (along with ones of Phillis Wheatley and Abigail Adams) at the Boston Women’s Memorial on Commonwealth Avenue. The first U.S. woman to retain her name after marriage, she once famously said that “A wife should no more take her husband’s name than he should hers. My name is my identity and must not be lost.”

Getting there:

Red Line to Ashmont Station. Exit to Dorchester Avenue and go right (north) until Ashmont Street (about 200 feet). Take a right and continue on Ashmont past Adams Street. Take a left on Train Street, and take the third right onto Boutwell. Number 45 is on the left. (0.9 miles, about an 18-minute walk.) A bus from Fields Corner Station also passes nearby.

To learn more:

“Lucy Stone, 1818-1893,” Dorchester Atheneum website.

Sally G. McMillen, Lucy Stone: An Unapologetic Life, New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.